Touring comedy show cancelled over racism concerns
SURREY - The Surrey School District has cancelled a touring comedy show over concerns about racism.
"Im Hussein: Double Trouble" was scheduled to take the stage at the Bell Performing Arts Centre Saturday night, but was cancelled after a campaign to stop it emerged Friday.
“This matter was brought to our attention this morning,” said Ritinder Matthew, the communications manager for Surrey schools, which owns and operates the centre attached to Sullivan Heights Secondary School.
An activist group called No Blackface Vancouver led the campaign.
“Our hope is that Metro Vancouver communities move quickly and we work to actually shut down the staging of this play,” said Maisaloon Al-Askari, a spokesperson for the group.
The play tells the story of Im Hussein and her husband Abou Hussein, a couple who are swindled by a Nigerian scammer. Created by Michigan-based Ajyal Theatrical Group, it began touring across the U.S. and Canada in September.
Trailers for the production show a man wearing dark makeup and an afro-style wig.
“I was very upset and very enraged and was trying to hold space specifically for black folks in our communities who are facing the direct impacts of this blackface situation,” said Al-Ashkar, recounting the first time she saw the trailer.
Ajyal Theatrical Group says the makeup is not blackface.
“It’s the makeup to cover his ... just like you do foundation, but it’s the same colour as his skin,” said Aziz Charabaty, the Production Manager.
“It’s clear that somebody has painted their face,” argued Al-Ashkar.
The satirical comedy is told primarily in Arabic.
Its creator says he’s experienced racism himself and uses comedy to combat that.
“I’ve been called the N-word many times," Charabaty said. "But I cannot just go on social media and tell my story, ‘Hey this is me, this is what I did, and I suffered and that is why I’m bringing my voice up.’ No. We fight racism through our comedy.”
The issue of blackface has been top-of-mind for Canadians for weeks after photos of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing dark makeup surfaced during the federal election campaign.
“It made it very clear that it’s so embedded in our societies,” Al-Ashkar told CTV News.
The Surrey School District made the decision to cancel the show late Friday afternoon.
“Surrey schools does not condone racism and takes matters of this nature very seriously,” said Matthew.
She says the decision to pull the show was not taken lightly.
“We have examined the situation very carefully,” explained Matthew in a statement. “We have been in touch with the organizers.”
A notice on the Bell Performing Arts Centre’s website says all ticket-holders will be refunded.